Football: Northwestern secures 35-21 victory against Maine

Junior safety Ibraheim Campell and senior linebacker Damien Proby tackle Maine's Rickey Stevens to the dirt. The Northwestern defense proved to be the strong side of the team Saturday, earning two interceptions and scoring on both turnovers.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior safety Ibraheim Campell and senior linebacker Damien Proby tackle Maine's Rickey Stevens to the dirt. The Northwestern defense proved to be the strong side of the team Saturday, earning two interceptions and scoring on both turnovers.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

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No. 18 Northwestern (4-0) didn’t play its best Saturday against Maine (3-1)but timely stops and a pair of defensive scores earned the Wildcats a 35-21 victory at Ryan Field.

“They did a terrific job of containing us for a little while,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “For the most part our special teams played well, our defense played pretty solid, and we’ve got to just execute better across the 50 (yard line) as an offense.”

Initially, the game looked as much a mismatch as it was expected to be. After a Maine three-and-out on the game’s first drive, NU methodically marched down the field for a nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 27-yard touchdown catch and run from senior quarterback Kain Colter to junior wide receiver Tony Jones.

“That was just a great read by Kain,” Jones said. “He came backside, saw me sitting in the hole. As soon as I caught it I bounced it outside and picked up a couple key blocks.”

For the next 25 minutes, the game was decidedly less cheery for the Cats. Maine repeatedly crossed into NU territory, and although the Black Bears failed to convert their drives into points — Maine had one field goal blocked, missed another and turned the ball over on downs once — the Cats’ defense continued to cede ground.

Meanwhile, NU’s offense stalled, punting on three straight possessions, then giving the ball away on a Colter interception. But the Cats’ interception-happy defense picked up the slack. With less than a minute to play in the first half, senior linebacker Damien Proby snatched a deflected pass from Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown to extend NU’s lead to 14-0.

The second half began in almost exactly the same way the first one ended. On Maine’s first sequence, a pressured Wasilewski floated a short pass into the arms of NU sophomore defensive end Dean Lowry, who rumbled 19 yards into the end zone. The pick was Lowry’s second of the season

“He’s been playing amazing,” Proby said of Lowry, who also had a sack and a forced fumble against the Black Bears. “Defense-wise, he’s been the player of the game the last three games, I think. It’s just been amazing to see a young guy really step up.”

With the Cats up 21-0, the teams traded touchdowns twice, the Black Bears scoring on two Wasilewski passes and the Cats working the ball into the end zone on the ground two times, maintaining their three-score lead. After each team lost a fumble, Maine concluded the day’s scoring with a 10-yard rush with just over two minutes to play.

Several of NU’s key cogs struggled. Colter completed only five of nine passes and gained 38 yards on 12 carries on the ground, and senior kicker Jeff Budzien missed a 49-yard field goal in the third quarter, his second miss of the season after only one in 2012.

For Maine, Wasilewski completed 25 of 40 passes, eight of them — including a touchdown — to tight end Justin Perillo and seven more to receiver Derrick Johnson. Maine bested NU in first downs, time of possession and total yardage, though the Black Bears’ statistical advantages were partially a consequence of the Cats’ defensive scores keeping the NU offense off the field. With a bye week preceding a showdown with No. 4 Ohio State on Oct. 5, several NU players said the team will work to iron out issues over the next two weeks.

“It’s good to go into any bye week with room for improvement, being 4-0,” Proby said. “We’re looking forward to taking no chances with the extra practice, to making the proper advancements that we need to as a team.”

Email: alexanderputterman2016@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AlexPutt02

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